Massachusetts Traffic Tickets:  An Abused System & How To Win at Appeal

Most of my time as a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney is spent on defending very serious charges, such as Massachusetts sexual assault charges, Massachusetts domestic violence charges, Massachusetts larceny charges, Massachusetts drug charges, and more.  But life here in Massachusetts can be made miserable on a legal level in more ways than being arrested for a very serious criminal offense.  To illustrate, I’ll open this post with this news excerpt: “Federal prosecutors say troopers from a troubled State Police unit had a quota system for issuing tickets to motorists, a practice that state courts have deemed unconstitutional and agency officials have repeatedly denied exists.  Members of the now-disbanded Troop E were expected to issue at least eight citations during their shifts under a specialized overtime program, which dozens of troopers allegedly abused to collect fraudulent overtime, according to prosecutors.”

This excerpt, from a news story in the Boston Globe, pretty much sums up the background of this post:  For many years, despite evidence to the contrary, the Massachusetts State Police has denied that they in any way had a quota system for motor vehicle citation that troopers were expected to meet.  Sorry – that was a lie.  In the wake of the state police overtime scandal last year, in which The Globe and other news media outlets revealed massive and shocking abuses in overtime pay for state troopers, it has now come to light that Massachusetts state troopers did, indeed, operate under a hidden quota system for Massachusetts motor vehicle violations.  This means that thousands of drivers over the years were cited and fined for “violations” that they were not responsible for.

Making matters even worse?  The troopers who regularly met these unwritten ‘quotas”, were rewarded for it.  How?  With the ultimate prize in the state police system:  Generous overtime shifts, which paid enormous sums of money, and went routinely un-challenged by the state agency responsible for paying them.  Some state troopers made as much as $300,000 in one year – most of it through very lucrative overtime shifts.  And the state police department was not the only police department engaged in this practice – several local departments were, also.  The Lowell Sun reported in 2015 that police officers in Dracut revealed that that department also had a quota system.  Officers in the towns of Abington and Sutton even sued their employers after they were retaliated against for complaining about such a system.

This is truly nauseating.  State and local police departments exist to provide public safety – they are not revenue agents for the state, and they never should be.  So, how hard is it to beat a Massachusetts motor vehicle violation, and how do you begin the process?  First, you need to request a hearing before a Court magistrate.  This is done by mailing in the citation to an address listed on the back of each citation, checking the box indicating that you are requesting a hearing.  You must also enclose a check for $25.00 as a “hearing fee” – prior to changes that were enacted several years ago under Gov. Mitt Romney, these hearings were free.  Not since.  (Make sure that you keep a copy of the front and back of the citation for your records.)  About two weeks after you mail in the hearing request, you will receive a Notice of Hearing from the District Court which has jurisdiction over where you geographically were when you were cited by the police officer involved.

At the hearing, a police officer representing the police department that issued you the violation will present the police department’s allegations regarding the incident that you were cited for.  It is not likely that the actual officer who cited you will be present – -that is only required if you are found “Responsible” by the Magistrate, and appeal the matter further, to a judge.  The vast majority of drivers that appeal Massachusetts motor vehicle violations, do not do so to avoid paying the fine on the citation.  They do it to avoid the insurance surcharge penalties that result if you are found “Responsible”, because if that happens, the Massachusetts RMV will report that finding to your auto insurance company, and your auto insurer will then very likely surcharge your insurance policy.  These insurance surcharges can last for several years, and add up to perhaps thousands of dollars over time.  Because of this risk, many drivers hire an attorney to represent them at these hearings.

This is wise, as most Magistrates perceive this as a sign that the driver takes the offense seriously, which they (naturally) like to see.  Thus, the success rate for drivers who have an attorney represent them at these motor vehicle violation hearings, or “traffic ticket hearings”, is much higher in my experience than for drivers who appear at the hearing, unrepresented by legal counsel.  An experienced Massachusetts traffic offenses attorney can present legal arguments that a non-lawyer won’t know how to.

Better to be smart about these hearings.  Or it can cost you a lot of money, down the proverbial ‘road.’